With over 1.5 million acres of wheat planted last fall in the Upper Southeast, the opportunities for double-cropping were huge this summer, and though unprecedented rainfall and myriad weather related problems put a damper on some of these plans, experts contend there is still a good chance to make a profit on ultra-late planted soybeans and grain sorghum.
“I’ve seen soybeans planted in late July make 40 bushels per acre, and I’ve seen them do much worse than that, too, says North Carolina State University Soybean Specialist Jim Dunphy.
For beans planted after the first week in July, weather will be a critical factor on how well the crop does or doesn’t do, he adds.
In Virginia, Extension Soybean Specialist David Holshouser says 35 bushels per acre for soybeans planted in mid-July isn’t a guarantee, but it can happen. Even beans planted in early August can make a crop, but the risk is high, he says.
North Carolina State Corn and Small Grain Specialist Ronnie Heiniger says the outlook for late-planted grain sorghum is much the same as soybeans. Whether growers chose soybeans or grain sorghum to plant late likely came down to simple economics.
A recent crop analysis by North Carolina State University Ag Economist Nick Piggott showed a fixed cost for soybeans to be $246 per acre, compared to $206 per acre for grain sorghum.
“I’ve seen sorghum planted the last week in July make 60-70 bushels per acre and growers can make a little money at that level of production,” Heiniger says.
“From now (late-July) until harvest time, it is critical that grain sorghum gets enough moisture, but maybe more important is that it gets enough sunlight,” the North Carolina State specialist says.
Goes back to planting
A lot of the success of late-planted grain sorghum goes back to when the grower planted it. If they planted an early maturing variety and if they added the extra nitrogen the plant needed to get up and growing quickly, then they have a chance to make a decent yield.
“They shouldn’t expect the same kind of yield other growers get on sorghum planted in May, but they can get a decent yield,” Heiniger adds.
August, unfortunately, brought only a few days of warm, sunny weather and a continuation of long periods of rainfall and cloudy weather, which will further delay late-planted crops.
Even with early maturing varieties, growers planting beans or sorghum in July were pushing the envelope for freezing temperatures and frost.
Duplin County is in the southeastern part of North Carolina and makes for an interesting look at late-planted soybeans and grain sorghum.
North Carolina State Agriculture Extension Agent Curtiss Fountain advises farmers on crops in the county. At the time growers were deciding whether to plant soybeans, grain sorghum or nothing at all behind washed out corn and/or much delayed wheat, Fountain advised growers to take a close look atinput costs for soybeans or sorghum before deciding which, if either, crop to plant.
Using mid-July prices, Fountain says it would take 20 bushels of soybeans per acre to cover costs and 39 bushels per acre of grain sorghum to cover these expenses.
A third option is to plant nothing, which is an option plenty of farmers in the Upper Southeast chose this year. Fountain points out there will be a cost to leaving the field fallow.
Weeds and grasses will need to be managed.For example, no one wants to lose the progress made in managing Palmer amaranth, which can happen if seed are allowed to accumulate in fallowed fields.
Recommended management would likely translate to leaving remaining wheat straw as is and spraying a broad spectrum herbicide such as Gramoxone (and possibly a residual herbicide). More than one herbicide application may be needed prior to frost.
Weed competition a problem
For late-planted soybeans, Holshouser says weed competition may be the single biggest threat to producing a profitable yield.
In general, he says, anything that slows the soybean plant down is going to be magnified when beans are planted in late-July and in some cases early-August. Everything has to fit just perfectly to make a decent yield, he says.
Manganese deficiency has popped up this year in Virginia, he adds, but other nutrient deficiencies might also slow down the crop.
“We are seeing a number of yellow leaf symptoms this year, so the first objective is to know what problem you have. If it’s a nutrient deficiency, treat it sooner rather than later to avoid slowing the plant down,” he says.
If growers planted beans or sorghum in July on more productive soils with good water holding capacity, their chances of making a profit is better. If growers planted either crop in mud, even on good soils, the chances of a decent crop are significantly less.
Fountain says in his area of North Carolina another critical question may determine who does and who doesn’t make money with late-planted beans or sorghum.
That question is, “What is your deer pressure in relation to your weed pressure.” “High deer pressure favors grain sorghum plantings and high weed pressure might favor grain sorghum plantings, but high weed pressure also might favor no crop,” he adds.
Risk is the over-riding factor for such late-planting of either crop, Heiniger says.
Regardless of whether they planted soybeans or grain sorghum late into July, growers across the Upper Southeast will be keeping a close eye on weather reports, hoping for a late fall and late frost.